Swearing has become a thing recently. Last year I attended a conference and every single speaker used the F word in their presentation. LinkedIn posts featuring the F-word in their titles are going viral.
Is swearing a taboo that is obsolete or do we risk alienating our customers if we let it into our business language?
Should you swear?
When I was a kid my parents were critical of a member of their social group. She was a warm, entertaining woman but she let swear words flow into her conversation easily. It made my parents uncomfortable particularly when they had me in tow. What if I asked them what the words meant? Worse, what if I started using them myself. All that effort to bring up a well-mannered child would be ruined.
I’m sure part of their distaste of the woman in question was as an example to me. If you swear people won’t like you.
As an adult, I swear. I do try not to do it in front of my Mother but expletives are part of my everyday vocabulary. They enhance the points I’m trying to make, they add emphasis and impact. But I’d never let those words creep into my business communications.
I’m sure my customers swear. I’m sure if I used the ‘F’ word in a blog post it wouldn’t be the first time they’d seen or heard the word. But even if they swear I don’t think me swearing, in a professional setting would put across the right impression about me and my business.
As marketers we’re told that we should speak the language of our customers and I’m all for that. Using words and phraseology that is familiar to them can help you build trust. They’ll feel like they are talking to someone familiar, a friend, someone who understands them. But I draw the line at swearing. Why?
If you went to the GP to discuss your health and they dropped an ‘f’ word into the diagnosis how would you feel? What if your accountant told you that tax was a ‘F**king pain in the a**e but you had to pay it? Would that feel like comfortable banter or would you be taken aback?
When I go to the Doctor I’m relieved when she speaks in a manner I can understand, she’ll explain any treatments clearly. She makes me feel at ease.
But if she started telling me my blood pressure was ‘almost f**king perfect’ I’d feel uncomfortable straight away.
The context of her swearing wouldn’t work.
Sometimes it does work
If you read my recent review of the book ‘Made to Stick‘ you’ll know that being surprising can help you be memorable.
If my doctor swore I might feel uncomfortable at the time. I’d laugh later and tell people about my ‘sweary’ GP.
The question you need to ask is. Do you want to be remembered for being sweary?
A few months ago I read a blog post by Ann Handley. She talks about a LinkedIn post written by a working mother. The title of the post was How To: F**king Work From Home.
The post was successful, to date over 9.5 thousand Likes, over 1,600 comments (not all favourable) and over 600 shares. More impressively the post led to sales. I imagine had she omitted the F word she’d have seen little impact.
So a good result even if the author is going to be branded as ‘The sweary woman on LinkedIn’ for eternity.
Should you swear?
To this day I avoid swearing in front of my parents, I avoid swearing in front of children and I avoid swearing at work.
The LinkedIn post was successful because it was surprising. At the conference I attended the F words woke us up, jogged our minds that could easily wander after 20 minutes of a presentation. They were words we didn’t expect to hear in a business lecture.
In both these cases the expletives worked. They served a purpose, they made us pay attention.
The downside is that once you are known for swearing there will be a portion of your audience that will be turned off, that will look elsewhere because although swearing is part of all our lives there are times when it seems inappropriate.
If you’re comfortable with that and if you know that swearing could have a positive impact on you and your brand. Go for it.
What do you think. Is swearing a bad thing or does it enhance your business?
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